A Change in Game Purchasing Habits

Not too many years ago, I was the guy there on Day 1 to buy the hot new game. Really, on Day -1, or Day -30 or something. I’d have the pre-order in well before launch date.

I noticed this summer that I don’t do that any more. It wasn’t really a deliberate decision, but a learned behavior. I think the last “OMG new shiny!” full game I bought was Assassin’s Creed:Valhalla last November.

These days I’m content to let a new game ripen for a few weeks or months before buying it. I’ve identified a few reasons why.

1) Cost — I don’t have the disposable income I once did, and you can save a lot of money by being a little patient. Games go on sale so quickly these days. This one is a no-brainer that we’re all aware of but for the sake of completeness I’m including it.

2) Game Pass/Novelty — I used to buy a lot of new games just because I was bored and wanted to try something new. Now there’s always something new on Game Pass. Even without Game Pass there are so many games coming out, and so many sales constantly running, that you can almost always scratch the ‘something new [to you]’ itch by grabbing a game on sale. Heck half of us have games in our Steam Library that we’ve already purchased but haven’t ever played.

3) Spoilers (or lack thereof) — I hate spoilers. I used to sometimes buy a game at launch because I wanted to experience the story before it was spoiled. Since I’ve become a console gamer, and primarily a single player gamer, I’m not really exposed to spoilers because no one I am in contact with plays the same games. It is VERY rare that I go to a gaming site (I just now realized I don’t do that anymore). Between these two factors, spoilers are no longer a concern.

4) Game Quality — Just about every game gets patched after launch. Bug fixes, quality of life changes, performance improvements… In almost all cases the launch-day version of the game is the worst version to play. Why not let a game improve before investing your time and money into it? One exception: if a game is coming out that I feel passionate about and that doesn’t seem to have the resources of a big AAA title, I might make a Day 1 purchase just to support the title and the team. That hasn’t happened in a while, though.

5) Single Player — As mentioned I primarily play single player games these days. A good reason to buy a new multi-player game is to get in on the fun while all your friends are playing it. That doesn’t really apply to solo games, but this is why my pre-order of New World exists. I pre-ordered that game in, I think 1885 or something. I’m still not 100% convinced it’ll launch this month!

6) Backlog — I have SO MANY games I haven’t played that it seems silly to buy new ones, frankly.

I could probably come up with more reasons, but those seem sufficient.

But it’s WEIRD, y’know? It’s such a change for me to show… restraint? 🙂 At least when it comes to gaming, I’ve always been fairly extravagant. It kind of feels good too. It feels responsible. Maybe at 60+ I’m finally becoming an adult, I don’t know. I also kind of feel like I have more respect for the games I do buy. That sounds strange to say. But when I buy a game it isn’t on a whim. It’s a game I’ve been interested in for a while, and a game that has been on the market for a while and so has proven itself. I miss a lot of clunkers this way, too. Games that were hyped but then kind of fizzled. Or games that are actually quite good objectively, but would not be good for me. Returnal, on the PS5, is a good example of this. I almost bought it Day 1 but am glad I didn’t because I now know it just isn’t the style of game I’d stick with.

So that’s it, that’s the post, as they say. Only they say it about Tweets. I don’t really get what it means. I think it’s what you say when you don’t really have a point!

[Header image is from LOTRO. It’s a view of Bree from the bluffs of the Barrow Downs.]

Conflict Between Jetpack Boost and Javascripts in WordPress Sidebar

Just a quick PSA in case anyone else runs into this issue.

Was trying to squeeze a bit more speed out of Dragonchasers today and I installed a plugin called Jetpack Boost. This plugin has a few options including one called “Defer Non-Essential Javascript.” When this option is turned on, scripts, or at least some scripts, in the ‘sidebar’ wind up displaying below the page instead of in the sidebar. Which makes sense since, y’know, the script is being deferred.

The correct solution is an option to specify certain scripts as essential so the plugin doesn’t mess with them. There is no way to do this ‘out of the box’ yet, but it is a known issue.

You can track the issue here.

This issue was created on August 5th; hopefully we’ll see a new option soon.

[Header image is from Final Fantasy XIV and has nothing to do with WordPress plugins 🙂 ]

My Brain is Rotting

I’m a web developer. I know that because it is my job title.

I don’t really develop anything anymore though.

Back when I got into this business I did all kinds of things. I had the keys to our Solaris servers. My palm print was registered at the data center so I could access the cage, which I did frequently. Sometimes I’d have to drive over there at 2 AM to address an issue, and it was just me. I knew what to do.

At the time we were running Vignette Storyserver which used Tcl as a scripting language. Tcl! I dunno that I could still write a script in Tcl. Or Perl for that matter, which is a lot less weird than Tcl.

I wasn’t part of the IT department but I worked very closely with them. I was kind of honorary IT.

I was removed from that gig when they hired a new exec who wanted a clean slate. I mean that wasn’t the reason they gave but it was what happened. The exec hired people they had worked with at their last company. The powers that be decided to move to a Java Server Pages platform. While everyone was being trained in that, I was assigned to maintain the old site and its Tcl scripts. Then once the switch over was made I was laid off because I didn’t know the JSP platform (the name of it escapes me… Documentum maybe?) that they’d prevented me from being trained on. Yeah, that’s fair.

My next gig, we were using Expression Engine, which is written in PHP with a proprietary templating language that was very PHP-esque. We didn’t have a data center, we had an ISP who did most of the maintenance on the servers. I still took care of a VPS server we had for odds and ends, and I did some stuff on Amazon EC2 instances. I spent a lot of time writing scripts to talk to API endpoints and stuff. It was a step down from the first gig in terms of tech but it still was a job I was constantly learning stuff at.

Enter a new exec who determined that we should ditch Expression Engine and put all the sites on WordPress because, y’know, he had a nephew that used wordpress or something. (Everyone knows WordPress so I won’t explain it.) Through my whole career I’ve been at the mercy of executives who come in, make decisions based on bad or no data, then usually leave when they fail at their job. But their decisions stick around.

Anyway so I started making custom WordPress themes. Every brand got exactly what they wanted because we weren’t using an off-the-shelf theme. We were secure because we weren’t using dozens of plugins that are constantly being probed for defects. (Security through obscurity!) It was definitely a less rewarding job but I guess learning WordPress had some value.

Then that company got purchased by a much larger company. The new company ran everything on WordPress, which was good as far as it being an easy transition. But this company has an IT Department that is completely divorced from the web team. They’ve erected a major wall between anything that can be called a server and the rest of the company, and that includes me. Now I do none of the server work I used to do. I no longer have access to manage DNS, which I used to do. They seem to have a fear of APIs, so that work is gone.

As for WordPress, they are replacing our custom themes with a standard theme across all their sites. A consultant is building it. I won’t go too far down this rabbit hole, but the point being now I’m not even going to be building WordPress themes. Lately most of my days are spent doing help desk level tasks like resetting passwords, unblocking access, setting up redirects. Stuff, honestly, an intern could do.

It’s clear I need to find a new job, but I also feel like I’ve waited too long. I think about updating my resume and what I do now does not justify my salary, frankly. And I haven’t USED my high-value skills for so long that they’ve atrophied while at the same time going out of date. So I don’t REMEMBER how to do all the things I used to do, but if I could remember then those skills would be kind of dated, anyway.

I feel stuck. I feel like my brain is rotting away. When I get laid off (and it is pretty clear the current company is making a concerted effort to no longer need developers on its payroll…they already have a 3rd party on contract with ‘resources’ in India and the Philippines who I’m sure are MUCH cheaper than me) I don’t think I’ll be very marketable, between my age and my atrophied skill set.

The only hope I can think of is to find A Project. Something I’m excited to build and that I could build in a technology I don’t know. Something like the project Scopique is working on to learn React, or like Tipa’s Python project to import an old blog into Github.

I just can’t think of anything. And really I don’t WANT to do anything, but I feel like I HAVE to do something. I really wish I wanted to. I remember being super excited about web development and learning new things. I put in so much overtime on that old Tcl site not because it was asked of me but because I was pumped about it.

But now I kind of just want to sit around and play video games once the work day is done. And I’m not really sure how to fix that. Like how do you make yourself get excited for something?

Maybe I can be a greeter at Walmart for my next job.

The one thing that has occurred to me is to find some non-profit that is a) working for a cause I believe in and b) looking for volunteers to help them with some technology project. But I’m not really sure how to do that.

The Perfect Moment

Sometimes I wonder what is normal. Do other people have a Perfect Moment? In my 60+ years of living I have one moment that I always return to in times of despair, or panic. One moment of perfect peace.

Not that I panic or feel despair all that often. The last time was when I was getting an MRI of my head. Being strapped down and stuck in that machine freaked me out, but I took a deep breath and went to my Perfect Moment and felt better.

I’ll try to describe my moment.

* * * * *

It is late summer. The sun is low in the sky. I’m on my boogie board waiting for the perfect wave. There is no one else around. Just me, the waves and the sand. Maybe a couple of gulls. There’s a stiff wind blowing off shore. The waves are pounding; I’m surprised no one else is surfing today. But they’re loud, the crashing waves.

A good set rolls in. As the first wave passes under me, I sink into the trough behind it. The sun is so low that when I do, I fall into shadow. It gets dark and quiet. The wind whips spray off the lip of the wave, spray that catches the sun’s rays, forming a rainbow that dances overhead. It is so beautiful and peaceful that I forget about riding, and just stay where I am, falling into the trough, watching the rainbow above from the shadow below, then bobbing up as the next wave arrives so once again I’m in the light and hear the crashing of the last wave that passed. Then down again into peace.

I stay there until the sun sets, then ride a wave in and head home.

* * * * *

This happened… jeez, I’m not sure. Sometime in the mid 70s, putting me in my mid-20s at the time.

Just writing it down has me feeling calmer, and of course quite nostalgic. I hope you have a moment like this that you can travel to in your head when the here & now gets a little overwhelming.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!

[The header image is one I took at Topsail Beach in North Carolina a few years ago. Sadly I have very few pictures from the old days, and I certainly wasn’t carrying a camera while I was surfing. Not back then, in the days of 35 mm film and when Go Pro wasn’t even someone’s great idea yet.]

Always Something To Read!

With Blaugust over I’ve renamed my blogroll to “Always Something To Read” since I’ve kind of started using it in lieu of my RSS reader (Feedly, in my case). You can see it over on the right rail unless you’re on mobile where it kind of goes poof because when I wrote this theme the right rail was kind of pointless. I should address that.

Anyway today I’m asking for MORE BLOGS TO READ! Not that the blogroll was ever strictly Blaugust, but it was Blaugust and a few friends who were already in my old ‘static link’ blogroll. Now I must cast the net wider!

So if you have a blog (and, y’know, you’re a person, not a marketing bot) drop a comment or hit me up on Twitter and I’ll add your blog to the list. If you do this I can almost promise that you’ll get 2, may 3 extra page views over the course of a few years! Maybe. 🙂

[Header image is from Far Cry New Dawn, Xbox One version. I just thought it was pretty.]

I Made Switchel

Back in the middle of Blaugust when I was desperate for a topic that I could turn into a quick and easy post, I shared a few of my favorite YouTube channels. One of them was Townsends, a channel about life in 18th century North America. At lot of the Townsend videos focus on cooking and food preparation and while I find them interesting, most are not interesting enough for me to try to make them.

One exception was Switchel, which Jon Townsend calls “An 18th Century Energy Drink.” Here’s the video:

It’s a simple recipe:
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup of sulpher-free molasses
a heaping tablespoon of ground ginger
1/2 gallon of water

Mix and enjoy.

My first attempt was drinkable but not great. First, my ground ginger was ancient and not very potent and it was the end of a jar and I barely had a tablespoon. End result: not a lot of ginger flavor. Second…I think I don’t really like molasses enough for this recipe.

For attempt two I used local honey instead of molasses and I had a new jar of ground ginger. I started with warm-ish water to help dissolve everything. This time it was pretty good right after mixing, but still not quite sweet enough so I added an extra dollop (that’s a technical term) of honey. Shook it all like mad to get the honey to dissolve in the now cold water. That tasted better, but when it really got good was after a few days in the fridge when a lot of the ginger settled out leaving a very clear drink, about the color of apple juice.

I really enjoy it, though due to the vinegar in it I don’t guzzle gallons of it. There’s a bunch of info on the web about how apple cider vinegar is good for you, but I don’t know how much I believe of what I read. I do, however, enjoy the taste & fragrance of vinegar (properly diluted, of course, and really you notice the vinegar more in the smell than the taste) and I feel like it does help keep my gut happy. Maybe a little acid is good for all the bacteria living in there. Who knows?

And I really like having a cold drink where I know all the ingredients that go in it. Same could be said for home-brewed ice tea or lemonade, for sure, but beyond those drinks (and good old ice water) most of what I drink comes from a factory of some kind somewhere.

Since making this Switchel I’ve discovered there are a ton of recipes for it online. Some of them are fermented, many use fresh ginger, some swap the vinegar for lemon or lime juice. This one from Townsends is one of the simplest and while I may try others, there’s something to be said for spending 5 minutes to throw together half a gallon of refreshing beverage. Bonus points for it being pretty darned cheap to make, too.

[About the header image: I tried my best to get one of those ‘beads of sweat dripping down the side of the jug’ shots but all I managed in the time allotted was fogging that just makes it look like I’m drinking from a dirty jug. I now have great respect for food photographers.]

More About A Plague Tale: Innocence

I mentioned my issues with A Plague Tale: Innocence in my weekend recap but wanted to expand on them in this post.

So first a bit about the game. Plague Tale takes place in an alternate history France in the 1300s. You mostly play as Amicia, a teen-aged (I’m guessing 15 or 16?) girl who is suddenly tasked with protecting her 5 year old brother Hugo. A plague (called ‘The Bite’) is ravaging the land, and the Inquisition is out in full force hunting for Hugo for reasons unknown.

The plague takes the form of demonic rats. There are LOTS of rats and they’re so very, very hungry. Thousands of ’em and they have but one weakness: they are afraid of light. Amicia is armed with a sling and over the course of the game she learns how to make special ammo for it: shots that ignite smoldering fires, shots that douse lights, and so on. As she travels through the game world she has to guide Hugo along by holding his hand. If he is left alone for too long he’ll start to panic, making noise and drawing enemies to the pair. At least that’s what we’re told. I was too good a big sister to ever let him get to that point.

OK so that’s the as-spoiler-free-as-possible setup.

The game is strongly narrative-driven and is not open world. Stripped of story, you are generally tasked with going from Point A to Point B in a level, though the animations of the characters, the excellent voice acting and the world building hide that exquisitely. The first half of the game is just *chef’s kiss* amazing.

In terms of mechanics, a lot of the game is essentially puzzle-based. You see a swarm of rats…how will you get past them? Can you light a fire by using your special ammo? Can you distract them by offering them a meal of some kind. Can you just avoid them? The further in you go the more complex the puzzles get, but the more tools you have to solve them. I found this all really fun. Fun, but really dark. Sometimes the meal for the rats is an enemy soldier. Actually a lot of times that’s the case. The various sling ammo types reminded me of Thief: The Dark Project, if you remember that game.

Amicia is a 15 year old girl with a sling and the beginning of the game leans into that. She has no interest in killing people and she’s not skilled enough to do it reliably anyway. But the farther you go, the more combat there is, and in the last chunk of game Amicia is like some kind of sling-wielding super-hero taking out enemies left and right. Not only did this kind of ‘cheapen’ the character for me, but the game’s mechanics (at least on console) just don’t offer a great combat system. As you wind up a sling shot your targeting reticle will ‘lock on’ to an enemy’s head, or the lantern they are carrying, or some other hotspot. Let fly and you hit. But sometimes it won’t lock on. Sometimes it ‘loses’ the lock just as you release. Sometimes it locks onto the wrong thing. This all makes combat less than satisfying so the more the game relies on it, the less gratifying the overall experience becomes.

This weapon wheel is from early in the game. By the end game it has choices all the way around.

You choose your ammo type from a weapon wheel (again, this is the UI on consoles). This feels sloppy, and you can’t re-arrange the ammo. So (again trying to stay as spoiler free as possible) there are times when I frequently wanted to use the item at 3 o’clock on the weapon wheel followed quickly by the item at 7 o’clock. I would have really liked to have been able to re-arrange these items so they were next to each other, but there was no way to do that. When the wheel is open (and obscuring your view) the game slows down a tiny bit, but not nearly enough. There isn’t an indication of what ammo type you have selected until you start your wind up to throw. I frequently died because I thought I had selected the right thing, but when I’d start Amicia’s wind up I’d realize my selection was wrong. By that time the enemy has closed the gap and boom! Dead. No time to change to the correct item, and you can’t effectively run/dodge while using the wheel (at least, I couldn’t). Amicia doesn’t have hit points. If an enemy strikes her, she dies.

Anyway, you get the idea. Putting so much emphasis on fighting at the end of a game where combat isn’t super polished or really the focus just totally busted the pacing for me. There was also a too-long pure stealth mission, and a mission where no matter what you did you would fail to some extent. Of course you, the player, doesn’t KNOW you’re expected to fail so I restarted that section so many times and got so frustrated trying to take out what I guess is an endless number of enemies.

Just in case I was missing something I checked around on places like Reddit and yeah, I wasn’t the only one cursing about the combat at the end. It may be that none of this is an issue on PC and that’s why it hasn’t been mentioned much. I just thought so much of the enjoyment of the game rested on the story, but the devs ruined the story by making the gameplay at the end of the game so cumbersome and frustrating that the pacing of the narrative was destroyed. I don’t know why they would do that.

There’s a sequel, A Plague Tail: Requiem, coming in 2022 and I hope they can keep the amazing storytelling of Innocence while addressing the flow of the end game. I’m willing to give them a second chance.

Blaugust 2021 – Fini

Here it is, the last post of Blaugust 2021. I made it. Whew! While I originally didn’t plan to post every day and at the 1/3rd point I decided to cut back I never really did. For better or for worse. Technically I think I wrote 32 posts since if I remember right I double-posted once.

So what did I discover? Well most importantly I learned that I can still generate a blog post every day if I really want to. Unlike so many of my projects, I didn’t abandon this one. I also discovered some really nice blogs and really nice people and I intend to keep reading these people in the future.

There were some disappointments along the way. While I tried my best to amplify other Blaugust participants by retweeting stuff with the #blaugust2021 hashtag on Twitter, I found there were only a handful of us doing that. Seemed like a missed opportunity. (There were a few people who retweeted almost every post and I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart!) In some cases I Followed Blaugust participants just so I’d be aware of their blog post announcements and could retweet them, but often they didn’t follow me back. Maybe other bloggers just don’t see Twitter as an important audience building tool? Or maybe they just thought it was more important to curate their timeline than to promote people they didn’t really know (which is fair, particularly if they’re trying to build a Following that they can monetize). Either way, that was a bit of a bummer. I mean, it isn’t like promoting each other is in the rules of Blaugust but it was still a little disappointing.

In the run-up to the event I was excited about joining the Discord community, but I only lasted a week or two in there. As with just about every Discord I join, it felt like a clique of people that I wasn’t a part of. (This is just where my brain goes in any kind of crowd, IRL or online, so not a knock on the community, just a hang-up I have about new groups of people.) I dutifully posted content in the “Share Your Content” for a while, but I saw almost no traffic from that and none of my posts seemed of interest to the other Discord users. There are certainly helpful people in the Discord and if you ask a question you will get answers. So it serves a function, but for socializing and talking about writing it was a bust for me. Additionally the most helpful people in the Discord seem equally helpful on their blogs or in Twitter, and since I’m already at those places, making a special trip to Discord seemed like a poor use of my time. (I should note that I am not a Discord user and the Blaugust Discord was the only Discord that I was using.)

In general the broader community aspect of Blaugust was pretty much a bust for me, but then I’ve always struggled to find my tribe. On the other hand, I feel like I’ve joined a micro-community of bloggers who I really resonate with, and that is a huge win.

All that said, I am ready to announce the Dragonchasers 2021 Blaugust Mentor of the Year Award as chosen by ME!:

Aywren from Spot of Mummery!
*confetti cannons go off*
Aywren posted a lot of great advice over the month and her advice was always clear without being simplistic. A marvelous gift.

Honourable Mentions:
Bhagpuss at Inventory Full
Naithin at Time To Loot

So, About The Future…

One of the reasons I did Blaugust was to decide if it was time to shut down the blog. I went something like 8 or 9 months without a post. Is it worth paying for the domain and hosting?

In terms of popularity, it clearly is not. My traffic doubled in August, which sounds great but again, I hadn’t posted in a long time so traffic was very very low. Doubling from 2 to 4 is a lot less impressive than doubling from 2 million to 4 million, after all. Specifically I had like 1000 page views for the entire month of August and 240 of those page views was for a post from last year. Basically 31 days of Blaugust posts barely caused a bump in traffic. Eliminate that article from last year and Blaugust added 250 page views over the entire month.

My take-away is that posting daily doesn’t help me generate traffic, and let’s be real, this blog is 19 years old. If it hasn’t found an audience yet, it never will. My choice of topics or my writing style doesn’t resonate with many. I remember a time when I thought Dragonchasers would become a side hustle. I was going to build it up and then get sponsors or ads or whatever. That dream was 99% dead already, but Blaugust drove the final nail into its coffin. I don’t have what it takes to write a blog that generates revenue. I’m just not focused enough.

And y’know what? That’s kind of a relief in a way. Last time my hosting plan came up for renewal I bought a 2-year plan and I still have a year or so left on it. So for now the blog will stay around but it’ll be MY blog and I’ll write for me and assume no one will ever read it. Maybe I’ll just share stories of my (completely ordinary) life or something. Who knows?

Blaugust is done. It’s not something I imagine I would do again. I’m glad I did it just because it got me back to writing, and getting people to blog is the whole point of Blaugust so it definitely worked. That said, if someone were to ask me about getting started or back into blogging, I’d say rather than waiting for Blaugust just pick a day and start writing. Make a schedule and try to stick to it, but avoid going for a daily post schedule. Give yourself at least one day off a week, and probably at least two. Maybe 3 or 4. Depends on how much free time you have. If you work full time and have a family, I feel like 3 posts/week is PLENTY. You need to reserve some time to do the things you’ll eventually blog about!

Weekend Recap for August 30th

We are slowly, slowly creeping up on October and the start of cooler weather. I desperately miss living in a place where September means crisp Autumn days, but here in the middle of North Carolina the best you can ask of September is to please cool it (ha!) with the 90F+ temperatures. Sadly, September doesn’t always listen. This weekend the heat index was over 100F and today is supposed to be even hotter. Lola and I had a tough weekend with the heat just unbearable and her so torn between “I really want to go outside and explore” and “I am a dark colored dog melting in the blazing sunshine, help me cool off.”

With the obligatory griping finished, let’s get started.

Movie Night — This week we watched Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, an animated Witcher movie on Netflix. This was a prequel of sorts that focused on Vesemir’s story before Geralt came into the picture. (Vesemir is Geralt’s older friend and mentor, in case you’re not up on all the lore.) I love the Witcher IP even if I’m not as thrilled with the games as most seem to be, and I really enjoyed Nightmare of the Wolf. I have questions but I won’t ask them here because spoilers (the movie just came out last week). I was worried @partpurple wouldn’t like it as much, but she enjoyed it quite a bit as well.

Family TV — We usually watch something during our lunch break and lately we’ve been doing a re-watch of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I don’t think either of us has ever gone back and watched the series in the order it aired. It’s been fun with lots of “Oh I’d forgotten about this!” moments. We just crossed into Season 2 which seems a lot better than Season 1, at least based on the first couple of episodes. Evening viewing has been Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I’d watched a couple of seasons of this solo, but @partpurple hadn’t see it at all. After we’d enjoyed The Bad Batch we decided to go back and catch up and we’ve been glad we did. We’re watching them in chronological order which is a bit of a hassle but makes the storylines much more cohesive than I remember them from my first viewing. Oh, and What If…? and Star Trek: The Lower Decks continue to delight every week.

Reading — I’ve started book 7 of The Saxon Stories, The Pagan Lord. Uhtred’s temper has gotten him into hot water with the King and the Christian church, so he is once again on the move. Uhtred is in his 50s in this book, and there are 13 books in the series and I’m really curious to see what kinds of exploits he gets into as he grows even older. I read somewhere that The Last Kingdom Netflix series (based on these books) is ending in part because they couldn’t figure out a good way to show Uhtred as an old man when the actor who plays him is, of course, still quite young.

Gaming — I mentioned yesterday that I’d started A Plague Tale: Innocence and I got HOOKED so that’s where I spent most of my gaming time this weekend; I finished it last night. It’s supposed to be a fairly short game but it still took me almost a week to play through it. I might do a post on it. It was one of those games with a strong narrative that gets kind of ruined by a difficulty spike at the end. I don’t know why game devs do this in story-based games. They get you hooked, you’re having fun playing and enjoying the story and then “Oh, you want to know how it all ends? Well we’ve got some trick final boss fights you have to figure out first.” I very nearly walked away from it, and I’m talking about the last 5% of the game. I went from “This is a 5 star game!” to “Would hesitate to recommend” based on the gameplay changes at the very end.

That irritation may fade with time. I loved the setting, loved the characters and the voice acting and thought the story was pretty good. There were some changes I’d make besides the ending. In particular on console at least, the game uses a ‘weapon wheel’ UI, and many of my deaths came when I was fumbling with the wheel and an enemy closed a gap and killed me. Your character basically only takes 1 hit to kill. In a game like this where combat isn’t really the main point, I think having things slow down while you use the weapon wheel would serve the audience better.

Also after the Great Controller Debate of ’21 I wanted to play a FPS on the Xbox to see if I could understand the complaints about that controller. Since I’ve been wanting to finish Far Cry New Dawn anyway, I went with that. Weirdly I’m still able to pull off long-range head shots using a cobbled together pistol even with the Xbox controller. Huh. 🙂 I can’t say I’d blanket recommend Far Cry New Dawn; the tone is borderline offensive (depending on what character you are hanging with) and the pacing is strange. It can be hard to get from Point A to Point B just because so many random/semi-random events are constantly spawning. Those encounters are FUN mind you, but after a while they get in the way of you progressing through the story. I once again hope that Far Cry 6 is a bit more serious in tone.

Influenced by Tipa and Bhagpuss, I installed DC Universe Online and woke up a long dormant character. I keep trying to play this game on the consoles and it just looks so incredibly bad I can’t stick with it. On PC though, while it certainly looks dated, it is much better. I didn’t play for too long but did have fun and I’ve left it installed to revisit as time permits.

As for the two MMOs I’m currently subscribed to (FFXIV and ESO on Playstation) I of course didn’t log into either all weekend. Typical me.

Next weekend is a holiday for many of us in the US. I get 3.5 days off. Office closes at 1 PM on Friday, then Monday off. I’m REALLY looking forward to the extra time off, but for now it’s time to slog through one more stupidly hot work week. We can do this!

Microsoft Rewards Points

Today I want to talk about the meta-game I’ve been playing the longest: Microsoft Rewards Points (MRP). MRP are Microsoft’s way to try to incentivize you to use their products like Bing and Game Pass. You can learn about the program here.

I have three primary ways to earn MRP. The first is by visiting https://rewards.microsoft.com/ every morning while I have coffee. There I do the “Daily Set” which is some mix of clicking links and taking quizzes. A lot of these are ‘no-fail’ situations where you get points just by trying, but if you want to be sure you get max points you can check the MicrosoftRewards reddit. I find doing these Daily Sets kind of amusing just from the point of view of learning trivia-level facts and stuff.

The second way I earn MRP is via the Microsoft Rewards app on the Xbox. This is somewhat similar to the above system, and often asks you to “Check out this featured game” or something equally trivial. (Selecting these tasks takes you to the store, but you don’t have to buy the featured game in order to earn points. Just visiting the store page is enough.) Other times you’ll be tasked to do something like earn an Achievement in a specific game or selection of games. In fact there is a daily task for earning an Achievement that grants you 50 points. Overall this is another fairly mindless way to earn points.

The third and most interesting way I earn MRP is via Game Pass Quests. This is where things get fun. There are daily, weekly and monthly quests. The daily quests are boring and always that same: 1) log into the Game Pass app, and 2) play a Game Pass game. The weekly and monthly quests are more interesting. They task you with doing specific things in specific Game Pass games (at least some of them do). So “Drive 1 KM in Game X” or “Kill 10 enemies in Game Y” or “Play an online match in Game Z.” These are usually fairly quick to complete (though there are exceptions). What I enjoy about them is they prompt me to play games I usually wouldn’t play, and sometimes I find games I really enjoy. For instance this week one of the quests involved A Plague Tale: Innocence. I accomplished the quest objectives pretty quickly but by then I was hooked on the game. Now I’m going to finish it!

The point of all of this is to amass MRP so you can exchange them for various goodies. My preferred goodie is store credit. A $100 Xbox gift card can be redeemed for 91,000 MRP, which sounds like a huge number given some of the tasks reward 5 or 10 points, but they add up more quickly than you might expect (accumulation is helped by various “double points” events and other promotions). I’ve earned over 400,000 MRP since starting with the program. I don’t really track things but at least once a year I cash in for a $100 gift card.

It wouldn’t be worth it if earning the points was bothersome, but for me it has become a game in and of itself. I look forward to Tuesdays, which is when the weekly quests come out. What has made this even better/easier is Xcloud since a lot of the games can be played via streaming, meaning you don’t have to install them to complete the quest. The daily sets on the web are either inoffensive and quick, or they’re quizzes which are kind of fun for me to do because I enjoy trivia.

Anyone with a Microsoft account can sign up and start earning points, but it is when you’re a Game Pass member that the system gets really interesting. If you have Game Pass you might want to check it out!